Tonight, the Bruins lost to the damn Columbus Blue Jackets. You know, the Blue Jackets who are last in the Metropolitan Division and sit only above the Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference. Before that, they beat the Dallas Stars with a furious comeback in the final period and a half, and the Stars are the best team in the West right now. (The Blackhawks are 1 point ahead of the Stars, but the Stars have played 2 fewer games. That’s 1st place to me.)
This is what the Bruins have been doing all year. They lose the games that frustrate the hell out of you and make you think, “Yeah, well, that’s why we knew they weren’t a real contender this season.” Then they put a beatdown on great team, and you think, “If they get some help on the blue line at the trade deadline… you never know!” Most of these great wins against quality competition have come on the road, which only adds to the surprise. The Bruins are 20-7-3 on the road this season, which is bested by only the mighty Capitals. They’ve beaten the Lightning, Panthers, Canadiens, Islanders, Penguins, Blues, and now Stars by 2 goals on the road this year in a game.
The last time that the Bruins had a better record on the road in a season was the 2011 season, which you’re more then welcome to use as a good omen, but more importantly demonstrates the fact that the Chara-era Bruins haven’t been a great road team. Even during the 2014 Presidents’ Trophy season, the B’s earned that title mainly by boasting an absurd 31-7-3 record at the TD Garden. This season, their record is not only better on the road, but their road/home records are light-years away from one another (43 points in 50 games on the road compared to 27 in 50 at home). This B’s team’s home/road splits are so different from that past B’s teams that it’s not even funny, only adding to the unpredictability of this season.
This year’s team is different from the Bruins of years’ past in multiple other ways, as well. For one, the group of forwards are much better than the defense. The Bruins’ blue line had been overrated for a little while now because of the defensive system they play and the fact that they regularly put guys like Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller in the lineup, but it was never this. In 2011, for example, the team had a Norris Trophy winner, good 2nd defenseman, decent 3rd-4th guys in Ference (when he was still good) and Boychuk (when he had become good but wasn’t great yet), and a “good enough” 5-6 combo of Kaberle and McQuaid (the only time in his career when McQuaid actually deserved to be the 6th defenseman for a contender). Now, it’s Chara, who’s still very good but not closer to what he was in 2011, and a bunch of a guys who are slotted either 1 or 2 spots too high on the depth chart.
At the beginning of the season, the Bruins let us know that this would be a wacky season. They opened by losing 3 straight by a combined 9 goals, won 6 of 7, lost 5 of 7, then won 5 in a row. Through the 60 game mark, I can’t think of another team in the league who’s as weird as they are. The only other possibility is the Predators because of their streakiness for spurts during the season, the Ryan Johansen trade, and the fact that they’re contending while Pekka Rinne has a .906 save percentage this year. But they can’t match the craziness of the Bruins this year, not with the way the Bruins make us wonder whether or not they can tie their own skates on day and give us hope for another Stanley Cup the next.
The good thing about high variance teams? The highest point of that variance is pretty damn high. They still need major help on defense at the trade deadline, but if they somehow pull that off, it wouldn’t shock me for the Bruins to commence a hot streak when the postseason starts and make a deep playoff run. Or, they could get swept in the 1st round by a combined 10 goals in 4 games. Neither would shock me in the slightest.